Nationalism – A glance into the History of the World


Nationalism has been one of the most influential of the various doctrinal constellations that have vied for man’s loyalties since the erosion of traditional religion. Despite protean local nations, it has re-appeared as a consistent set of demands and beliefs and social arrangements.


Nationalism is a distinct ideological variety of social and political movement with a definite ‘directional tendency’, a recognizable profile and thrust.

In the whole history of people, its holiest moment is when it awakens from its unconsciousness, and for the first time thinks of its old holy rights. People who grasps its sense of nationality, with pleasure and love, can always celebrate its rebirth.

Nationalism represents a mass state of mind or national consciousness of comparatively recent origin, among the majority of peoples and is the result of a variety of convergent causes- race, instinct, language, religion, geography, administration and tradition – produced by the conditions of modern civilization. It is the outgrowth of the democratic idea that the State belonged to the masses of the nation as a whole, and thus it became akin to the independent development of each distinct group.

Nationalism stands for the historical process by which nationalities are transformed into political unity and for the legitimate right of people who form a distinct and vigorous nation or nationality to get a place in the comity of the nations in the world.

Hallwell opined that “nationalism is a form of collective egotism, rooted in the love of the familiar land and people”.

Other thinkers have also regarded nationalism as a historical and political concept, and the outcome of ethical aspirations and spiritual unity. Nationalism, being rooted in the gregarious instincts of men, has become a historical realty as well as process, but carried to its extremes, it has often degenerated into patriotic snobbery, jingoism and territorial aggrandizement.

Nationalism, originally meant that mankind is naturally divided into various nations and that these constitute the natural units of political sovereignty. But the modern connotation of the term means that, “it is a formulization of rationalization of national consciousness and as such it inevitably sough full expression in unified and independent statehood”.

Nationalism, in fact, is a spontaneous response to the force which in modern times have revolutionized the world. It is a product of the break with the old order of life and since the French Revolution it took a definite turn. The forces responsible for growth of nationalism, were essentially democratic, who mobilized the submerged elements and classes of society into new social dynamism, doing away with traditional relationship and making anew pattern of society.

Nationalism, being an occidental phenomenon by birth and nature, is characterized by a peculiar European idea, sponsored and propagated into a definite philosophy of politics and life, in the 18th and 19th century by the French Encyclopeadists, like Rousseau and Voltaire; German metaphysicians, like Fischte, Kant and Hegal; and the English Romantic poets like Shelley and Byron.

The Peculiar European term nationalism, means that a nation should coincide with one sate, but before the birth of this idea, there were people who were divided among several states, as the Germans and Italians were divided till the 18th century and there were states, which included several nations within their boundaries, such as the Ottoman Empire.

Nationalists writers have emphasized every kind of cultural and other criterion in stating out their claims for their ‘nation’, such as Mazzani pointed to Italy’s unique geography; Tilak to India’s worship of Kali; Blyden and Senghor to the blackness and spirituality of the Africans; in Greece, Israel, Burma, and Indonesia, religion has been most potent self-definer and provided a man subtle and solid foundation for national identity.

In short the core of nationalist doctrine is as under:

  1. The humanity is naturally divided into nations;
  2. That each nation has its own peculiar character
  3. That the source of all political power is the nation, the whole collectivity;
  4. That for freedom and self-realization, man must identify himself with a nation;
  5. That nations can be fulfilled only in their states;
  6. That loyalty to the nation-state overrides other loyalties;
  7. That the primary condition of global freedom and harmony is the strengthening of the nation-state.

Some of the themes which recur endlessly in the nationalist movements and their literature are: Identity, Purity, ‘the enemy’, historical roots, self-emancipation, building the new man and the new community, collective sovereignty and participation etc.

Fundamentally the doctrine of nationalism fuses three main ideals, to wit;

(a)   Collective self-determination

(b)  The expression of national character and individuality

(c)   The vertical division of the world into unique nations , each contributing its special genius to the common fund of humanity.

The growth of nationalism can be divided into three main periods: the first period begins in the 18th century, with the gradual dissolution of the medieval unity of Empire and Church and the establishment of National Church. In this period the nation was identified with the person of the sovereign. In this period, the advance of nationalism was really felt at the partition of Poland in 1772. It gave force to the Spanish resistance against the French Government from 1806 to 1813. It caused the defeat of Napoleon at Moscow and the revival of Germany after 1815.

The second period begins from the turmoil of the Napoleonic Wars or roughly with the Vienna Congress in 1815 and ended in 1914. In this period, the national forces were very successful and asserted their claim to the statehood, whether through a coalescence or through a breakup of the then existing units. Its founder was J.J. Rousseau, who after rejecting the embodiment of the nation with the person of the Sovereign or the ruling class, identified nation with the people. This principle was recognized first of all the American and French people in their respective revolutions against their ruling masters. It was the beginning of the democratization of nationalism, and was wholly alien to the nature and temper of the 18th century nationalism.

Although, the identification of the nation with the people was not very much encouraged by the statement at the Vienna Congress, yet the democratization of nationalism continued steadily and became a definite political ideal in 1848. It was time when nationalism represented a change from sentiment to program. As Lord Morely pointed out as under:

“Nationalism, in this period, from instinct became an idea; from idea, abstract principle; the fervid pre-possession ending where it is today, in dogma, whether accepted or evaded.”

But the dogma was both revotionallary and creative in this period. The third period roughly began since 1870, but took a definite start from 1914. During this period a new social order replaced the older one, more or less, among all the nations of the world; political power became synonymous with the economic power and many new nations appeared on the political horizon of the world. Particularly the modern Arab nations are the product of the Treaty of Versailles concluded in 1919.

In this period nationalism also found al close affinity with socialism, and the right of self-determination became standing invitation to the nations to secede from the Empires or from the alien rule. The bare fact that, at present, there are almost more than 140 nations or independent political units, goes far by itself to explain the spread of nationalism in this period. In Europe, nationalism was the outcome of the break-up of feudal set-up of the society and State, while in Afro-Asian counties; it is the offshoot of colonial era. Disintegration of the older forms of society, communal life and the emergence of a common man as a new force is the socio-political order.

The philosophy of nationalism is not without its critics. Edmund Burke, Thomas Carlyle, Lord Hugh Cecil and various other thinkers said that uncontrolled mass nationalism is crude dangerous and disintegrating force; because masses are generally inert and tools in the hands of their leaders, as we have in the case of Axis powers during the Second World War E. Kedourie, one of the most ardent critics of the idea of nationalism has remarked about tit as follows:

Nationalism is a doctrine invented in Europe at the beginning of 19th century. It pretends to supply a criterion for the determination of the unit of population proper to enjoy a government exclusively its own, for the legitimate exercise of power in the state and for the right organization of society of states.”

Briefly the doctrine holds that humanity is naturally divided into nations, that nations are known by certain characteristics which can be ascertained and that only legitimate type of government is national self-government.

Further, Kedourie regards nationalism as one of the most pernicious doctrines that has been inflicted on the suffering humanity. It is an antiquarian irrelevance, a baneful invention of some misguided German philosophers, supported by the frustrations of obscure middle-class writes, low-born sons of artisans, farmers and pastors.

It has introduced an extremist style into politics. It has confused with interests. Instead of peace and prosperity, it has brought new conflicts, exacerbated tensions and catastrophes to numberless million of the innocent people.





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